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If you’re anything like us, you’re counting down the day until the government’s next lockdown review like your life depends on it.
What will Boris Johnson say on Sunday? Will we be able to see our families or will we be quarantined for another three weeks? Could easing restriction cause a second peak of the virus?
The constant overthinking is bad for our minds, causing us to feel anxious, overwhelmed or even fear the impending review. So, why is this the case?
“People are in a state of psychological conflict,” says Philip Corr, a professor of psychology at City University. On one hand, there’s the fear of infection which strongly motivates us to stay home, but on the other hand, there’s the desire to return to normal life. “This leads to what is known as ‘goal-conflict’,” he says, “and if it’s not resolved, it can lead to anxiety, rumination and worry.”
Our brains are wired to think about outcomes. For some, the easing of lockdown, while welcomed, may make their anxiety worse, says Corr, because the guidance is bound to be ambiguous, leading us to think: “I can do this, but not that. What if I’m placing myself at greater chance of being infected, etc.”
Easing measures could also lead to an increased death rate. “This will come as a terrible psychological blow to many people,” he says. “Their hopes dashed and their sense of control and general predictability of the world will be undermined. This is psychologically debilitating.”
Prof Corr recommends not pinning all our hopes, thoughts and dreams on the upcoming review. “A ‘review’ is a summary of the available evidence, and must be couched in terms of different courses of action, along with caveats,” he says – this doesn’t help people’s general anxiety, he adds, because we crave “some degree of certainty”.
So, how can we try to be more open, whatever the outcome of the review? “We need to have purpose in our everyday lives now,” says Prof Corr, “and not just to look forward to some future state of predicted wellbeing.”
We can look ahead to the future easing of restrictions, he says, but more “psychologically meaningful” are the plans we’re making today, or this week.
“For example, instead of hoping for opportunity to be with family again, be with them now via remote means. Acceptance of the current situation is important – sitting back and waiting for it to end is likely only to lead to psychological distress.”
You could also practice gratitude forecasting. Professor Robert Emmons, known as the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, told HuffPost UK this is the best way to boost positivity right now. “Imagine how grateful you will be when life returns to normal,” he said. “Consider simple pleasures you’re currently deprived of, and then visualise experiencing those once again.”